9. My father played on his high school football team. I can’t really picture him as a kid. I’ve never seen pictures.
8. He was a swimmer, too, but I never liked swimming. It feels oppressive to me, and dangerous: the foreign water surrounding you is just as much your enemy as your friend. My cousins are swimmers, though. They call our grandparents Gong Gong and Po Po.
7. I don’t speak Mandarin. I’ve never tried to learn either. Sometimes when my grandparents are chatting or when my father says phrases to himself, I wish I could.
6. I am in elementary school and my father takes me out to hit baseballs. He coaches the Little League team, the AY soccer, and my brother’s youth center basketball. I quit soccer before middle school. I never really liked sports anyway. I look like Dad, my brother observes, but I act like Mom.
5. I am thirteen years old and I write a racist story for a history assignment about the life of a Chinese immigrant. My friends think it’s funny so I tell my mother about it. My father comes into my room that night. He doesn’t go into detail about his feelings. He reminds me that it’s offensive to people like my grandparents to say things like that. When he was a kid, he tells me, other kids made fun of him and called him names. Just because he was Chinese.
4. In the sixth grade I quit baseball, and I run crosscountry instead. I start track in the spring of eighth grade. I’m never the fastest but that’s okay. My father comes to all the meets.
3. There’s so much water between us, and I’m afraid I can’t get across. It’s already too late. And there’s only more as the years flow by, swirling and crashing and washing away.
2. I guess it must be hard, to see your parents fight to hold on to their culture as they drift in this American sea, and then to fight that way yourself, and then to see your children fight the same way, only not as hard, because it’s slipping from their fingers, more and more every generation, until you’re terrified they’ll drown in endless ocean.
1. If I gave someone in my life a gold medal, it would be him. For being on my team whether or not I was on his.
0. Lin takes six steps forward. Arm leaps, wrist flicks upwards. The ball soars through the air. It sinks down and he watches it fall, but I don’t care if he makes it. Because even when some people might have said it was too late, he still took the shot. I can too.
Growing Up Asian in America provides a unique platform for young people to creatively explore and celebrate being both Asian or Pacific Islander and American.
Every year, almost one thousand Bay Area students in grades kindergarten through 12 submit artwork, essays, poems and videos on a single theme, competing for over $20,000 in cash and prizes. It encourages young Asian Americans to take pride in their identities, and helps others understand the varied experiences of our youth growing up in the Bay Area’s diverse communities.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the program, the Asian Pacific Fund asked youth to reflect on their roots. A variety of themes came up in the students’ works including personal stories of sacrifices made by immigrant grandparents and parents, the struggle to maintain one’s cultural identity, and the lessons learned from each family’s journey. Many students expressed deep appreciation for the courage of elders and ancestors.
This essay was a winner in the 9th to 12 grade category. Zachary Lo is in the 10th grade.